Pro-em­ploy­ment poli­cies only so­lu­tion to mod­ern day slav­ery abroad

By: Winnie Watera

The Au­di­tor gen­eral is man­dated by the con­sti­tu­tion of Uganda to au­dit and re­port on pub­lic ac­counts; that is all pub­lic of­fices and any pub­lic cor­po­ra­tion es­tab­lished by an act of Par­lia­ment. This is sub­stan­ti­ated by the Na­tional au­dit Act, 2008 in sec­tions 13 and 19. Ar­ti­cle 163(4) of the con­sti­tu­tion that fur­ther re­quires the Au­di­tor an­nu­ally to pre­sent a re­port to Par­lia­ment for the fi­nan­cial year im­me­di­ately pre­ced­ing.

In the last 3 au­dit re­ports tabled in Par­lia­ment, the Au­di­tor Gen­eral pointed out the is­sue of un­der­staffing in a num­ber of pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions. Ac­count­abil­ity com­mit­tees dur­ing their probes into the ex­pen­di­ture of pub­lic monies dis­bursed have queried this is­sue, it has al­most be­come rhetoric. This notwith­stand­ing Gov­ern­ment has on a num­ber of oc­ca­sions in­sisted on ex­port­ing la­bor. Of course there is the ar­gu­ment that gov­ern­ment can­not af­ford all the staff it re­quires in its in­sti­tu­tions, this is valid. But has the gov­ern­ment stopped to re­flect about the con­di­tions that the ex­ported la­bor works in? Has it done enough for the un­em­ployed in Uganda?

On No­vem­ber 27, 2015, the Ob­server, a renowned Ugan­dan news­pa­per ran a story on a on a one Sarah Na­mutebi (not real names) who had just re­turned from Dubai where she had been em­ployed as a do­mes­tic worker. Na­mutebi told of the or­deal she faced while abroad and how she was hood­winked into be­liev­ing she was go­ing to make an hon­est liv­ing in the “land of Gold.” Na­mutebi is just the tip of the ice­berg, many Ugan­dans have had the same ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing abroad es­pe­cially in Asian coun­tries. De­spite such sto­ries, many young Ugan­dans have not been de­terred from seek­ing these op­por­tu­ni­ties and with Ugan­da’s loose pol­icy on the wel­fare of ex­ported la­bor there is noth­ing stop them.

Par­lia­ment has raised a red flag on the mat­ter time and again. The Uganda Wom­en’s Par­lia­men­tary As­so­ci­a­tion (UWOPA) raised the is­sue through a pe­ti­tion tabled by the Kasilo County MP, Okupa Eli­jah back in 2012. In 2014, Naka­songola Woman MP Mar­garet Ko­muhangi moved the House to con­sider slap­ping a mora­to­rium on the ex­port of Ugan­dan girls and women to work as maids. Most re­cently, Speaker Re­becca af­ter a trip to Saudi Ara­bia de­manded that the gov­ern­ment gives Par­lia­ment a de­tailed ex­pla­na­tion of its plan to pro­tect Ugan­dans work­ing in Saudi Ara­bia or else ban the en­tire prac­tice. Note­wor­thy is that gov­ern­ment has­n’t tabled this re­port yet on the floor of Par­lia­ment.

Con­trary to this, the co­or­di­na­tor of the Ex­ter­nal Em­ploy­ment Unit (EEU) in the la­bor Min­istry, Mil­ton Tu­ryasi­ima, said the speak­er’s pro­posal to stop the deal is not fea­si­ble be­cause there is no law that can be used to en­force it. He points Ar­ti­cle 28 and 29 of the Con­sti­tu­tion gives free­dom to move and work any­where. He erred in us­ing the ar­ti­cles in iso­la­tion, Chap­ter four should be looked at in its en­tirety, pro­tec­tion of rights.

Uganda has cheap la­bor com­pa­ra­ble to those in china, there­fore, gov­ern­ment should ex­ploit this. The sit­u­a­tion in Uganda is; the gov­ern­ment bor­rows from China for var­i­ous rea­sons and again goes ahead to im­port ex­pa­tri­ates to do jobs that Ugan­dans would oth­er­wise do. This does not ben­e­fit us very much and yet a num­ber of grad­u­ates that uni­ver­si­ties an­nu­ally re­lease can ably feed into these in­sti­tu­tions. It is only then that the sur­plus can be ex­ported. Ugan­dan grad­u­ates should have a choice, this is what the con­sti­tu­tion means in Ar­ti­cle 29, go­ing abroad to live in squalor should not be the only choice.

Uganda should look at its strong points, for ex­am­ple, the cheap la­bor and high pop­u­la­tion, Agri­cul­ture, its com­par­a­tive ad­van­tage in the pro­duc­tion of cot­ton, cof­fee, and other or­ganic pro­duce, and use this to cre­ate em­ploy­ment. Over­haul the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem to al­low vo­ca­tional as well as the­o­ret­i­cal learn­ing. With such pro-em­ploy­ment poli­cies, un­em­ployed youth can ably im­prove their wel­fare and it is only then that this de­ba­cle of mod­ern day slav­ery will end.